Abraham Lincoln.

Abraham Lincoln; complete works, comprising his speeches, letters, state papers, and miscellaneous writings; online

. (page 29 of 91)
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pecuniary interest, while with the people of the North it is merely
an abstract question of moral right, with only slight and remote
pecuniary interest added.

The slaves of the South, at a moderate estimate, are worth a thou-
sand millions of dollars. Let it be permanently settled that this
property may extend to new territory without restraint, and it
greatly enhances, perhaps quite doubles, its value at once. This im-
mense palpable pecuniary interest on the question of extending sla-
very unites the Southern people as one man. But it cannot be demon-
strated that the North wiU gain a dollar by restricting it. Moral
principle is aU, or nearly all, that unites us of the North. Pity 't is,
it is so, but this is a looser bond than pecuniary interest. Right
here is the plain cause of their perfect union and our want of it.
And see how it works. If a Southern man aspires to be President,
they choke him down instantly, in order that the glittering prize of
the presidency may be held up on Southern terms to the greedy eyes
of Northern ambition. With this they tempt us and break in upon us.

The Democratic party in 1844 elected a Southern president. Since
then they have neither had a Southern candidate for election nor
nomination. Their conventions of 1848, 1852 and 1856 have been
struggles exclusively among Northern men, each vying to outbid
the other for the Southern vote ; the South standing calmly by to
finally cry " Going, going, gone " to the highest bidder, and at the
same time to make its power more distinctly seen, and thereby to
secure a still higher bid at the next succeeding struggle.


" Actions speak louder than words " is the maxim, and if true the
South now distinctly says to the North, " Give us the measures and
you take the men." The total withdrawal of Southern aspirants
for the presidency multiplies the number of Northern ones. These
last, in competing with each other, commit themselves to the utmost
verge that, through their own greediness, they have the least hope
their Northern supporters will bear. Having got committed in a
race of competition, necessity drives them into union to sustain
themselves. Bach at first secures all he can on personal attach-
ments to him. and through hopes resting on him personally. Next
they unite with one another and with the perfectly banded South,
to make the offensive position they have got into " a party measure."
This done, large additional numbers are secured.

When the repeal of the Missouri Compromise was first proposed,
at the North there was literally " nobody " in favor of it. In Feb-
ruary, 1854, our legislature met in called, or extra, session. From them
Douglas sought an indorsement of his then pending measure of re-
peal. In our legislature were about seventy Democrats to thirty
Whigs. The former held a caucus, in which it was resolved to give
Douglas the desired indorsement. Some of the members of the
caucus bolted, — would not stand it, — and they now divulge the
secrets. They say that the caucus fairly confessed that the repeal
was wrong, and they pleaded the determination to indorse it solely on
the ground that it was necessary to sustain Douglas. Here we have
the direct evidence of how the Nebraska biU obtained its strength
in Illinois. It was given, not in a sense of right, but in the teeth
of a sense of wrong, to sustain Douglas. So Illinois was divided.
So New England for Pierce, Michigan for Cass, Pennsylvania for
Buchanan, and all for the Democratic party.

And when by such means they have got a large portion of the
Northern people into a position contrary to their own honest im-
pulses and sense of right, they have the impudence to turn upon
those who do stand firm, and call them sectional. Were it not too
serious a matter, this cool impudence would be laughable, to say the
least. Recurring to the question, " Shall slavery be allowed to extend
into United States territory now legally free?" This is a sectional
question — that is to say, it is a question in its nature calculated to
divide the American people geographically. Who is to blame for that?
Who can help it ? Either side can help it; but how? Simply by yield-
ing to the other side; there is no other way; in the whole range of
possibility there is no other way. Then, which side shall yield ? To
this, again, there can be but one answer, — the side which is in the
wrong. True, we differ as to which side is wrong, and we boldly
say, let all who really think slavery ought to be spread into free ter-
ritory, openly go over against us ; there is where they rightfully be-
long. But why should any go who really think slavery ought not
to spread? Do they really think the right ought to yield to the
wrong ? Are they airaid to stand by the right ? Do they fear that
the Constitution is too weak to sustain them in the right ? Do they
really think that by right surrendering to wrong the hopes of our
Constitution, our Union, and our liberties can possibly be bettered?


December 10, 1856.— Fbagmknt op Speech at a Republican
Banquet in Chicago.

We have auother anuual presidential message. Like a rejected
lover making merry at the wedding of his rival, the President felici-
tates himself hugely over the late presidential election. He con-
siders the result a signal triumph of good principles and good men,
and a very pointed rebuke of bad ones. He says the people did it.
He forgets that the " people,'' as he complacently calls only those
who voted for Buchanan, are in a minority of the whole people by
about four hundred thousand votes — one full tenth of all the votes.
Remembering this, he might perceive that the " rebuke " may not be
quite as dui-able as he seems to think — that the majority may not
choose to remain permanently rebuked by that minority.

The President thinks the great body of us Fremonters, being
ardently attached to liberty, m the abstract, were duped by a few
wicked and designing men. There is a slight difference of opinion
on this. "We think he, being ardently attached to the hope of a
second term, in the concrete, was duped by men who had liberty
every way. He is the cat's-paw. By much dragging of chestnuts
from the fire for others to eat, his claws are burnt off to the gristle,
and he is thrown aside as unfit for further use. As the fool said of
King Lear, when his daughters had turned him out of doors, " He 's
a shelled peascod" ["That 's a sheal'd peascod"].

So far as the President charges us " with a desire to change
the domestic institutions of existing States," and of '' doing every-
thing in our power to deprive the Constitution and the laws of
moral authority," for the whole party on belief, and for myself on
knowledge, I pronounce the charge an unmixed and unmitigated

Our government rests in public opinion. Whoever can change
public opinion can change the government practically just so much.
Public opinion, on any subject, always has a " central idea," from
which all its minor thoughts radiate. That "central idea"' in our
political public opinion at the beginning was, and until recently has
continued to be, " the equality of men." And although it has al-
ways submitted patiently to whatever of inequality there seemed to
be as matter of actual necessity, its constant working has been a
steady progress toward the practical equality of all men. The late
presidential election was a struggle by one party to discard that
central idea and to substitute for it the opposite idea that slavery is
right in the abstract, the workings of which as a central idea may
be the perpetuity of human slavery and its extension to all countries
and colors. Less than a year ago the Richmond " Enquirer," an
avowed advocate of slavery, regardless of color, in order to favor
his views, invented the phrase " State equality," and now the Presi-
dent, in his message, adopts the " Enquirer's" catch-phrase, telling
us the people "have asserted the constitutional equality of each and
all of the States of the Union as States." The President flatters
himself that the new central idea is completely inaugurated ; and so
Vol. I.— 15.


indeed it is, so far as the mere fact of a presidential election can
inaugurate it. To us it is left to know that the majority of the
people have not yet declared for it, and to hope that they never will.
All of us who did not vote for Mr. Buchanan, taken together, are a
majority of four hundred thousand. But in the late contest we were
divided between Fremont and Fillmore. Can we not come together
for the future ? Let every one who really believes, and is resolved,
that free society is not and shall not be a failure, and who can con-
scientiously declare that in the past contest he has done only what
he thought best — let every such one have charity to believe that
every other one can say as much. Thus let bygones be bygones ;
let past differences as nothing be ; and with steady eye on the real
issue, let us reinaugurate the good old " central ideas " of the re-
public. We can do it. The human heart is with us ; God is with
US. We shall again be able not to declare that " all States as States
are equal," nor yet that "all citizens as citizens are equal," but to
renew the broader, better declaration, including both these and
much more, that " all men are created equal."

June 26, 1857. — Speech in Springfield, Illinois.

Fellow-citizens : I am here to-night, partly by the invitation of
some of you, and partly by my own inclination. Two weeks ago
Judge Douglas spoke here on the several subjects of Kansas, the
Dred Scott decision, and Utah. I listened to the speech at the time,
and have the report of it since. It was intended to controvert
opinions which I think just, and to assail (politically, not personally)
those men who, in common with me, entertain those opinions. For
this reason I wished then, and still wish, to make some answer to it,
which I now take the opportunity of doing.

I begin with Utah. If it prove to be true, as is probable, that the
people of Utah are in open rebellion to the United States, then
Judge Douglas is in favor of repealing their territorial organiza-
tion, and attaching them to the adjoining States for judicial pur-
poses. I say, too, if they are in rebellion, they ought to be some-
how coerced to obedience ; and I am not now prepared to admit or
deny that the judge's mode of coercing them is not as good as any.
The Republicans can fall in with it without taking back anything
they have ever said. To be sure, it would be a considerable back-
ing down by Judge Douglas from his much-vaunted doctrine of
self-government for the Territories ; but this is only additional
proof of what was very plain from the beginning, that that doctrine
was a mere deceitful pretense for the benefit of slavery. Those
who could not see that much in the Nebraska act itself, which forced
governors, and secretaries, and judges on the people of the Terri-
tories without their choice or consent, could not be made to see,
though one should rise from the dead.

But in all this, it is very plain the judge evades the only question
the Republicans have ever pressed upon the Democracy in regard
to Utah. That question the judge well knew to be this : " If the
people of Utah shall peacefully form a State constitution tolerating


polygamy, wUl the Democracy admit them into the Union? " There
is nothing in the United States Constitution or law against polyg-
amy ; and why is it not a part of the judge's '• sacred right of self-
government" for the people to have it, or rather to keep it, if they
choose ? These questions, so far as I know, the judge never answers.
It might involve the Democracy to answer them either way, and
they go unanswered.

As to Kansas. The substance of the judge's speech on Kansas is
an effort to put the free-State men in the wrong for not voting at
the election of delegates to the constitutional convention. He says :
" There is every reason to hope and believe that the law will be fairly
intei-preted and impartially executed, so as to insure to every ho)in
fide inhabitant the free and quiet exercise of the elective franchise."

It appears extraordinary that Judge Douglas should make such a
statement. He knows that, by the law, no one can vote who has
not been registered ; and he knows that the free-State men place
their refusal to vote on the ground that but few of them have been
registered. It is possible that this is not true, but Judge Douglas
knows it is asserted to be true in letters, newspapers, and public
speeches, and borne by every mail and blown by every breeze to
the eyes and ears of the world. He knows it is boldly declared that
the people of many whole counties, and many whole neighborhoods
in others, are left unregistered; yet he does not venture to con-
tradict the declaration, or to point out how they can vote without
being registered ; but he just slips along, not seeming to know there
is any such question of fact, and complacently declares : " There is
every reason to hope and believe that the law will be fairly and im-
partially executed, so as to insure to every bona fide inhabitant the
free and quiet exercise of the elective franchise."

I readily agree that if all had a chance to vote, they ought to have
voted, n, on the contrary, as they allege, and Judge Douglas
ventures not to particularly contradict, few only of the free-State
men had a chance to vote, they were perfectly right in staying from
the polls in a body.

By the way, since the judge spoke, the Kansas election has come
off. The judge expressed his confidence that all the Democrats in
Kansas would do their duty — including " free-State Democrats," of
course. The returns received here as yet are very incomplete ; but
so far as they go, they indicate that only about one sixth of the re-
gistered voters have really voted ; and this, too, when not more, per-
haps, than one half of the rightful voters have been registered, thus
showing the thing to have been altogether the most exquisite farce
ever enacted. I am watching with considerable interest to ascer-
tain what figure "the free-State Democrats" cut in the concern.
Of course they voted, — all Democrats do their duty, — and of course
they did not vote for slave-State candidates. We soon shall know
how many delegates they elected, how many candidates they had
pledged to a free State, and how many votes were cast for them.

Allow me to barely whisper my suspicion that there were no siich
things in Kansas as "free-State Democrats" — that they were alto-
gether mythical, good only to figure in newspapers and speeches in


the free States. If there should prove to be one real living fre
State Democrat in Kansas, I suggest that it might be well to cat(
him, and stuff and preserve his skin as an interesting specimen •
that soon-to-be-extinct variety of the genus Democrat.

• And now as to the Dred Scott decision. That decision declar
two propositions — first, that a negro cannot sue in the United Stat
courts ; and secondly, that Congress cannot prohibit slavery in tl
Territories. It was made by a divided court — dividing different'
on the different points. Judge Douglas does not discuss the meri
of the decision, and in that respect I shall follow his example, b
lieving I could no more improve on McLean and Curtis than 1
could on Taney.

He denounces all who question the correctness of that decisio:
as offering violent resistance to it. But who resists it ? Who ha
in spite of the decision, declared Dred Scott free, and resisted tl
authority of his master over him?

Judicial decisions have two uses ^ first, to absolutely determii
the case decided; and secondly, to indicate to the public how oth(
similar cases will be decided when they arise. For the latter us
they are called " precedents " and " authorities."

We believe as much as Judge Douglas (perhaps more) in obed
ence to, and respect for, the judicial department of govemmen
We think its decisions on constitutional questions, when fully se
tied, should control not only the particular cases decided, but tl
general policy of the country, subject to be disturbed only b
amendments of the Constitution as provided in that instrument i
self. More than this would be revolution. But we think the Dre
Scott decision is erroneous. We know the court that made it hi
often overruled its own decisions, and we shall do what we can 1
have it to overrule this. We offer no resistance to it. •
■ Judicial decisions are of greater or less authority as precedeni
according to circumstances. That this should be so accords bot
with common sense and the customary understanding of the legi

If this important decision had been made by the unanimous coi
currence of the judges, and without any apparent partizan bias, an
in accordance with legal public expectation and with the stead
practice of the departments throughout our history, and had bee
in no part based on assumed historical facts which are not real]
true ; or, if wanting in some of these, it had been before the eon:
more than once, and had there been affirmed and reaffirmed throng
a course of jrears, it then might be, perhaps would be, factious, na;
even revolutionary, not to acquiesce in it as a precedent.

But when, as is true, we find it wanting in all these claims to tl
public confidence, it is not resistance, it is not factious, it is not eve
disrespectful, to treat it as not having yet quite established a settle
doctrine for the country. But Judge Douglas considers this vie
awful. Hear him :

The courts are the tribunals prescribed by the Constitution and creat(
by the authority of the people to determine, expound, and enforce the la-
Hence, whoever resists the final decision of the highest judicial tribuB


aims a deadly blow at our whole republican system of government — a
blow wliioli, if successful, would place all our rights and liberties at tlie
mercy of passion, anarchy, and violence. I repeat, thcrcloie, that if re-
sistance to the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States, in a
matter like the points decided in the Dred 8cott case, clearly within their
jurisdiction as defined by the Constitntion, shall be forced upon the country
as a political issue, it will become a distinct and naked issue between the
friends and enemies of the Constitution — the fiiends and the enemies of the
supremacy of the laws. •

Why, this same Supreme Coiu-t once decided a national bank to be
constitutional; but General Jackson, as President of the United
States, disregarded the decision, and vetoed a bill for a recharter,
partly on constitutional ground declaring that each public f unetion-
ajy must support the Constitution, " as he understands it." But hear
the general's own words. Here they are, taken from his veto message :

It is maintained by the advocates of the bank, that its constitutionality,
in all its features, ought to be considered as settled by precedent, and by
the decision of the Supreme Court. To this conclusion I cannot assent.
Mere precedent is a dangerous source of authority, and should not be re-
garded as deciding questions of constitutional power, except where the
acquiescence of the people and the States can be considered as well settled.
So far from this being the case on this subject, an argument against the
bank might be based on precedent. One Congress, in 1791, decided in fa-
vor of a bank ; another, in 1811, decided against it. One Congress, in 1815,
decided against a bank ; another, in 1816, decided in its favor. Prior to
the present Congress, therefore, the precedents di-awn from that source
were equal. If we resort to the States, the expressions of legislative,
judicial, and executive opinions against the bank have been probably to
those in its favor as four to one. There is nothing in precedent, therefore,
which, if its authority were admitted, ought to weigh in favor of the act
before me.

I drop the quotations merely to remark that all there ever was in
the way of precedent up to the Dred Scott decision, on the points
therein decided, had been against that decision. But hear General
Jackson further :

If the opinion of the Supreme Court covered the whole ground of this
act, it ought not to control the coordinate authorities of this government.
The Congress, the executive, and the court must, each for itself, be guided
by its own opinion of the Constitution. Each public officer who takes an
oath to support the Constitution swears that he will support it as he under-
stands it, and not as it is understood by others.

Again and again have I heard Judge Douglas denounce that bank
decision and applaud General Jackson for disregarding it. It would
be interesting for him to look over his recent speech, and see how
exactly his fierce philippics against us for resisting Supreme Court
decisions fall upon his own head. It will call to mind a long
and fierce political war in this country, upon an issue which, in his
own language, and, of course, in his own changeless estimation, was
" a distinct issue between the friends and the enemies of the Consti-
tution," 'and in which war he fought in the ranks of the enemies of
the Constitution.


I have said, in substance, that the Dred Scott decision was in part
based on assumed historical facts which were not really true, and I
ought not to leave the subject without giving some reasons for say-
ing this; I therefore give an instance or two, which I think fully
sustain me. Chief Justice Taney, in delivering the opinion of the
majority of the court, insists at great length that negroes were
no part of the people who made, or for whom was made, the Declara-
tion of Independence, or the Constitution of the United States.

On the contrary. Judge Curtis, in his dissenting opinion, shows
that in five of the then thirteen States — to wit, New Hampshire,
Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and North Carolina — free
negroes were voters, and in proportion to their numbers had the
same part in making the Constitution that the white people had.
He shows this with so much particularity as to leave no doubt of
its truth; and as a sort of conclusion on that point, holds the fol-
lowing language :

The Constitution was ordained and established by the people of the
United States, through the action, in each State, of those persons who were
qualified by its laws to act thereon ia behalf of themselves and all other citi-
zens of the State. In some of the States, as we have seen, colored persons
were among those qualified by law to act on the subject. These colored
persons were not only included in the body of "the people of the United
States " by whom the Constitution was ordained and estabhshed ; but in at
least five of the States they had the power to act, and doubtless did act, by
their suffrages, upon the question of its adoption.

Again, Chief Justice Taney says :

It is difficult at this day to reaUze the state of public opruion, in relation
to that unfortunate race, which prevailed in the civilized and enhghtened
portions of the world at the time of the Declaration of Independence, and
when the Constitution of the United States was framed and adopted.

And again, after quoting from the Declaration, he says :

The general words above quoted would seem to include the whole hu-
man familj', and i£ they were used ia a similar instrument at this day,
would be so understood.

In these the Chief Justice does not directly assert, but plainly as-
sumes, as a fact, that the public estimate of the black man is more
favorable now than it was in the days of the Revolution. This as-
sumption is a mistake. In some trifling particulars the condition of
that race has been ameliorated j but as a whole, in this country, the
change between then and now is decidedly the other way; and their
ultimate destiny has never appeared so hopeless as in the last three
or four years. In two of the five States — New Jersey and North
Carolina — that then gave the free negro the right of voting, the
right has since been taken away, and in a third — New York — it
has been greatly abridged; while it has not been extended, so far as
I know, to a single additional State, though the number of the States
has more than doubled. In those days, as I understand, masters

Online LibraryAbraham LincolnAbraham Lincoln; complete works, comprising his speeches, letters, state papers, and miscellaneous writings; → online text (page 29 of 91)